NAT Lofthouse, one of the most famous of all Boltonians and the town’s best-loved sporting son, has died at the age of 85.
The former Bolton Wanderers and England centre forward — the legendary Lion of Vienna— died in Beechville, the care home in Chorley New Road where he had been a resident since April last year, at about 10pm on Saturday.
His death was announced shortly afterwards on Wanderers’ club website.
Bolton chairman Phil Gartside said: “On behalf of everyone at Bolton Wanderers Football Club, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Nat’s family, who are very much in our thoughts at this time.
“Nat undoubtedly is a Bolton Wanderers legend.
He was a one-club man and our football club meant as much to him as he did to us.
“We will miss him but we will celebrate his life, his legacy and great times that he brought to Bolton Five years earlier, he had been on the losing side at Wembley where Wanderers lost in dramatic fashion to the Stanley Matthewsinspired Blackpool.
Reluctantly, he hung up his boots for the last time in December 1960, forced to quit the game by a knee injury sustained in a 2-2 draw at Birmingham.
He had played all his professional football at the highest level — Wanderers having been a top-flight club throughout his playing days and England a major international force.
But his service to Wanderers was far from finished. He stayed on at Burnden Park in a number of positions on the backroom staff before becoming manager in 1968 and remained on the staff until 1972 when, controversially, he was told his services as chief scout were no longer required.
After six years “in the wilderness”, as he put it, he returned to Burnden Park as manager of the executive club and began his second career with Wanderers, spearheading much-needed fundraising ventures such as the Burnden Lifeline Society and taking on ambassadorial duties with the same determination and passion that were the hallmarks of his days as a powerful, bustling centre forward.
His service to Wanderers was rewarded when he was made a Freeman of Bolton in 1989 and, in January 1994, he was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List.
Despite calls from friends, supporters and admirers, he was never afforded the honour of a knighthood, which had previously been bestowed on his celebrated former England team-mates Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Billy Wright and Bobby Charlton.
However, the affection in which he is held locally was recognised in 1997 when the east stand at the newly-built Reebok Stadium was named in his honour and in 2005, when a “Legends” poll of supporters and Bolton Evening News readers named him the greatest Wanderer of all time.
His was a true Boy’s Own story. One of four brothers, the son of a coal bagger who worked for the Co-op, Nathaniel Lofthouse played football for the first time as a goalkeeper while at Brandwood Street Primary School.
His talents as a centre forward soon developed and it was while playing for Castle Hill Secondary School, which also produced fellow England centre forward Tommy Lawton, that his true potential was recognised.
He played for Bolton Schoolboys at the age of 12 — three years younger than most of his team-mates — and for Lomax’s XI in the Bolton Boys Federation, where he prospered under the influence of Bert Cole, a respected character in junior football circles.
Young Nat idolised the Wanderers stars of the day — the likes of Ray Westwood, Jack Milsom and Harry Goslin — and confessed to climbing a drainpipe to “pinch in” at Burnden Park to see his heroes play Manchester City in a FA Cup tie he was just eight years old.
Six years later he became a Wanderer himself, leaving school and joining the Burnden ground staff for the customary £10 signingon fee on September 4, 1939 — the day after the outbreak of the Second World War.
The conflict meant he had to wait until 1946 before making his League debut, scoring twice in a 4-3 defeat at Chelsea, but by then the boy had become a man, having spent the war years as a “Bevin Boy” down the mine at Mosley Common colliery and earned a wealth of experience playing for Wanderers in the wartime leagues, scoring 100 goals in 139 appearances.
Already an established and mature first-team regular, Nat instantly became the scourge of First Division defences and, in October 1946, he won his first representative honour when he was selected to play for the FA XI against the RAF. Four years later he made his England debut, scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia at Highbury and looked as much at home in the white shirt of his country as he did in the white shirt of the Wanderers.
At the height of his career he was given the Lion of Vienna nickname after a heroic performance, scoring twice in England’s dramatic 3-2 win in Austria in May 1952.
That same year he scored a record six goals for the Football League against the Irish League at Wolverhampton and, in 1953, was named Footballer of the Year when he topped the First Division scoring charts and scored in every round of the FA Cup, including the final. Despite facing stiff competition for the England number nine shirt, he broke Steve Bloomer’s long-standing scoring record in 1956 when he netted his 29th international goal.
Nat was always modest about his abilities, however, insisting he could only “run, shoot and head” and he was ever-grateful to the fans who took him to their hearts and gave him their support and to the teammates he relied on, whether playing for club or country.
For while he acknowledged the quality of the 1953 team that lost in that famous “Matthews Final” at Wembley where he featured in an allinternational forward line that included Bobby Langton, Willie Moir, Harold Hassall and Doug Holden, it was the team spirit of the successful 1958 side that solicited the proud boast: “If one of us was kicked, we all limped”.
When the years finally caught up with him — he officially retired in January 1960 when he was told his damaged ankle would never completely heal but confounded the specialists by making a comeback nine months later — the man known affectionately as Lofty had played 505 firstclass games for Wanderers and scored 285 goals.
Now he faced a challenge of a different kind, but he refused to turn his back on football and dedicated himself to working his way up through the ranks of the coaching staff, initially as assistant trainer before eventually becoming manager.
It was a role he never felt comfortable in, however, and after two years in the hot seat he became administrative manager before accepting the invitation to head up the club’s scouting programme in August 1971. But a year later he was told the club could not afford the expense of a chief scout and he said a tearful farewell to Burnden Park.
Wanderers realised the error of their ways six years later and, at the instigation of the then managing director Derrick Warburton and the encouragement of commercial manager Alf Davies, he returned to manage the executive club and went on to play another vital role, this time on the club’s commercial team.
As front man of the Burnden Lifeline Society, launched in 1982 when Wanderers were in dire financial straits, he made a telling contribution that ultimately saved the club from ruin.
Nevertheless, such was his knowledge and experience of the game that he was given one last hurrah on the football side when he accepted the offer to become Wanderers caretaker manager in December 1985 and, in his only game in charge, managed the team to a 2-1 victory over Chesterfield at Burnden Park.
Nat’s unique contribution to Bolton Wanderers was acknowledged in October 1986 when he was appointed club president and since then his reputation grew with every passing year.
The centre forward, who was revered as one of the all-time sporting giants, became respected far and wide as an ambassador for the game he loved and the club he served with such pride and devotion.
Funeral arrangements are expected to be finalised today.
Yesterday, Wanderers fans gathered to lay flowers and sign a book of condolence at the Reebok Stadium.
Awarded the OBE for his services to football and honoured as a Freeman of the Borough, Nat spent seven decades in the service of Bolton Wanderers, latterly as president and honorary director, having occupied a variety of roles after his playing days as a centre forward were prematurely ended by injury just over 50 years ago.
A one-club man from the age of 14 when he fulfilled his boyhood dream by signing for the Wanderers, he was the local boy made hero, becoming one of the most feared number nines in football, whether playing for club or country.
The boy from Tonge Moor became one of the game’s most prolific goal scorers in a 21-year playing career that brought him worldwide fame.
All told, he played 660 games for Wanderers, scoring 441 goals and, in an eight-year international career, made 33 appearances for England, scoring 30 goals — a record at the time.
The highlight of his illustrious career came in 1958 when he captained Wanderers to FA Cup glory, scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory over Manchester United.